Why is food such a powerful medicine?
In order to understand how we can use food as medicine, we need to understand disease triggers and the underlying mechanisms that cause disease, including the environmental factors which contribute to imbalance. I’m going to introduce the concept of the human body as an ecosystem; an interrelated network of systems in constant flux. When we are healthy, these systems stay within a certain range. When we are unhealthy, these systems shift into imbalance. Nutrients in food affect all these systems.
Problems with health can arise from sub-optimum nutrition, a poor or inadequate diet, stress, lack of exercise, smoking, pollution and poverty. By identifying disease triggers we can learn how to avoid them. We know from population studies that living in the UK increases our chances of experiencing breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes and depression. It doesn’t have to be this way, diseases usually develop over a number of years.
The human body is a complex system, in constant flux, changing from moment to moment. Genes turn on and off in every cell, our immune system defends us from invaders. Blood flows around our body. Sugars and fats are stored as energy. Brain cells turns on and off as we think – feel – touch. Hormones work together in intricate formation. These are the Mechanisms by which the human body functions. It is a web of interconnected systems, interrelated, every process affecting other processes
When we are healthy, these processes stay within a certain range, a range that is right for us as an individual. Now imagine we are becoming chronically ill, perhaps because we are stressed at work or under pressure at home. We might feel tired all of the time, we might be feeling depressed, irritable. Perhaps our blood pressure is going up. It is very likely that we are not eating properly and that we’ve not had time, or made time to look after ourselves. Underneath the surface, the ecosystem and the mechanisms are shifting outside of healthy parameters towards imbalance.
Key nutrients – like vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids – affect multiple pathways in the network. When we take an omega-3 capsule, or eat a food which contains it such as oily fish, mackerel, sardines and salmon. Vegetarian sources include chia seeds, linseeds and walnuts. All over the body network, reactions and responses to this omega-3 are taking place. Activity in the brain occurs because omega-3 is a vital part of cell walls, including brain cells, or neurons. These very special fats go to work on our blood, boosting processes that control inflammation and inflammatory diseases – like heart disease.
All nutrient rich food and good quality supplements have this effect. Vitamin C, Zinc, Magnesium. carrots, broccoli, garlic. These nutrients cause multiple positive responses in the body. Nutrition offers a multifaceted approach and we can now begin to see why. Food is effective medicine because our body is designed to use it in very specific ways. The nutrients in food are intricately linked with function and balanced processes. Our body needs these key nutrients to keep healthy and in good working order. We as humans are a complex, interconnected ecosystem, that interacts with the natural chemical components of a variety of whole foods in our diet.
By making positive changes to our diet we can make changes to our health which are preventative. Nutritionists will always focus on achieving the best possible state of wellness, and this may be different for everyone. By understanding and treating the underlying mechanisms which cause disease, we are targeting health concerns at their source. By understanding the body as an ecosystem we can begin to understand the function of nutrients. All the systems in the network require key nutrients to function within the desired range. Without these key nutrients the systems will shift into imbalance and disease.
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